How to be persistent in sales without being annoying

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Persistence pays in the sales profession. According to a study by InsideSales.com1, salespeople should attempt to contact a potential prospect at least six times. Another industry survey2 found an average of eight attempts needed to succeed. Yet another analysis3 showed an average number of 16 interactions recommended to reach targeted prospect accounts.

The message is clear: salespeople who give up too early are likely to fail. Those who remain consistently persistent and tenacious will ultimately win the day.

There is a fine line, however, between being persistent and becoming annoying. Recently, a salesperson tried to call and email me repeatedly, every day for three weeks, offering a blood testing device for medical laboratories. Unfortunately for this salesperson, I don’t work for a lab, and my job has nothing to do with testing blood – not at all. I tried several times to tell this poor fellow that he was selling something to someone who had no interest whatsoever. Yet, he refused to give up, and kept trying to arrange a demonstration of his amazing product to me.

Ultimately, I added his email address to my spam filter, and set up my phone to block his calls. Such is the fate of all sellers who confuse stalking with persistence. Even with new data privacy regulations like GDPR4, some sellers behave too aggressively for their own good.

Today, it is becoming much easier for sales professionals to set up and execute extended campaigns to reach potential buyers. With the advent of automated engagement applications, such as SalesLoft or Outreach, sales professionals can set up cadences for contacting targeted prospects through various means and media, for as often and as long as they desire. In the hands of a sales master, these tools can be a boon to productivity, but if used awkwardly, they can alienate prospects faster and more efficiently than ever before.

How can salespeople execute their craft persistently and professionally, without crossing the line to irritating and annoying the buyers they need to reach?

Polling and prospecting

A mistake made by many new salespeople is confusing polling with prospecting. The poor salesperson who tried to sell me something for which I had no use is an example of this error. People who poll think of prospecting purely as a numbers game: they believe that the more calls and emails they make, the higher the number of prospects they will find. I wrote a blog post about this ‘spray and pray‘ approach to prospecting5 several years ago. Sadly, the ease of automated marketing and prospecting applications have actually made this more common today.

A savvy seller understands the difference between polling and prospecting. This starts with changing their mindset about what they are trying to accomplish. The best sales prospectors define success as stimulating buyer curiosity, not getting a meeting or arranging a product demonstration. They understand that, by first making a potential buyer curious, then they will earn an opportunity for further contact.

This means tailoring of sales messages to the specific interests of each prospect is absolutely essential. Buyers quickly reject generic and generalized messages that aren’t specifically about them, their challenges, and their potential opportunities.

Salespeople must therefore research each target account and the people who work there and develop a hypothesis as to how the seller’s solutions would make an impact on each buyer’s situation – the more specific, the better. The first step towards professional persistence and away from general annoyance is to make your communications highly relevant to the person you are trying to reach. Fewer contacts with high quality messages will be more effective than a lot of generalized messages that mean little to anyone receiving them.

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